Archives For February 2012

It’s been a while since we’ve had an all-out Native Approps Adrienne K. rant against something on the blog. Actually, it’s been a while since we’ve had anything on the blog. So I hope you’re ready, cause it’s well after midnight, and I’m ready to rail on some stupid language choices, powers of representation, and claims of “honoring.”

Bon Iver released his third video today for his song “Towers.” Now, I don’t claim to have any knowledge of Bon Iver before Justin Timberlake’s awesome impression on SNL–so please, Bon Iver fans, if I’m somehow “missing the point,” bring it on.

To start, here’s the video. It has a high production value, some beautiful, beautiful scenery and camera angles, and a lovely soundtrack of mumbling falsetto, if you’re into that.

Bon Iver – Towers (Official Music Video) from Bon Iver on Vimeo.

Nothing inherently wrong with the video itself. An old white dude with a beard drives around in his truck, wanders through the woods, across a beach, and rows out in the ocean where we see some massive wooden towers. Then one falls, and SPOILER ALERT the old man dies. or something. It is so magical and mystical! We don’t know what it means!

But don’t worry, this randomness is a “tribute” to “Native American preservation lands”! Yeah, “preservation.” Not reservation. Preservation. A new term, invented special by the editors of Huffington Post and the director of the music video:

The story and aesthetic is very similar to “Holocene,” shot and directed by Nabil Elderkin, of the production house NABIL. Like Iceland in “Holocene,” “Towers” is a true tribute to the Native American preservation land in Washington state where the video was shot.

At first I thought HuffPo just mis-used a quote from the Paste Magazine article (linked in the last sentence of the quote above), which reads:

Elderkin also noted that “Towers” was shot mostly on Native American-preserved land in Washington state, and the video features the moving work of an actor named Mystic.

“Native American-preserved land” is super loaded and problematic too, but could have been a mistake. So I tracked down the actual quote from the director, which doesn’t necessarily make anything any better:

Nabil Elderkin, director: “The video was shot in Washington State, mostly on Native American preservation land.   The idea came from when Justin sent me a breakdown of what certain parts/lines of the song meant to him, so I did my best to decode it and curate into something simple, and hopefully the viewer can take from it their own feeling of what the towers represent.  It was very run and gun with Larkin my DP, Mystic my actor, Kathleen my producer and Nature, who is the best low budget art director ON THE PLANET!” 

Then there’s this Hollywood reporter article that twists the language even more:

“Towers,” which features an old, heavily-bearded man venturing from the forest and into tumultuous sea, was shot mostly in preserved Native American land in Washington State. 

“…preserved Native American land”? Really?

Ready to unpack this? First of all, the term “preservation land” or “preserved land” or “Native-preserved land” doesn’t exist. Is this all stemming from a possible mis-quote when Nambil actually said “reservation”? Quite possibly. But here are the things that bother me.

In these quotes, the Native land becomes a novelty, an unnamed backdrop for the “art” of the video. Why mention it was on Native land at all? Because it adds to the mysticism. It gives it a hipster-edge. “We didn’t just shoot a video in nature! we shot it in NATIVE AMERICAN NATURE!”

The unnaming of the land bothers me too. If they shot on tribal lands, I sure hope they got tribal permission, and therefore, you know, had to know who’s land they were on. There are 30 or so tribes in WA state. They’re all different. They’re not generic “Native American.” By just calling it “Native American…land” they’re contributing to that whole Native-American-culture-is-a-monolith myth that I bring up again and again.

So then the whole evolution of reservation–>preservation–>Native preserved–>preserved Native-land is fascinating. Let’s assume the original slip was a typo/mis-quote, but I think how quick the other media sources were to pick up on it says something about the imperialist nostalgia hidden right under the surface in the US. “Reservation” sounds sad, a reminder of how “we” (dominant culture) subjugated “them” (Natives). But “preservation” sounds nice. Like “we” saved it for them. Set it aside. Cause we’re thoughtful like that. And “preserved” sounds even better! Like “they” held onto those traditional old ways that we tried to get rid of, remained stewards of the land, and kept it pristine and beautiful so “we” could come shoot our music videos on it. How wonderful for everyone involved.

Icing on the cake is how HuffPo calls this a “true tribute to Native American (p)reservation lands.” A “true tribute” to Native land is a white actor named “Mystic” wandering around and then dying on unnamed tribal lands? Um, notsomuch. But thanks for trying. I’m really, really tired of the rhetoric of “honoring” or “tributes” being drawn upon to somehow erase Native peoples anger at the way we’re being represented by outside forces. Mascots? Hipster headdresses? YMCA Indian Guides? Quotes about Bon Iver music videos? Don’t get mad, we’re honoring you with our gross mis-representations of your culture!

Please don’t tell me that I should be “glad” that Native people are being “recognized at all” and throw out the “Would you rather that Native people were just forgotten completely and never mentioned or shown again?” I’m sorry, we’ve been somehow “disappearing” for over 500 years, yet we’re still here. Our cultures are still strong. We’re not going anywhere. So your ridiculous “honors” and “tributes” that do nothing to truly represent our peoples and our cultures aren’t “saving” us from extinction. They’re continuing to oppress, erase, and marginalize our living, breathing existence.

So much loaded in one mis-quote, huh?

/endrant

Here’s the original HuffPo article: Bon Iver’s new video is a tribute to Native American preservation land 

UPDATE: Thanks to some amazing detective work by @NativeApprops twitter follower Jac (@java9lives), it appears the mysterious preservation lands we’re talking about are those of the Hoh Tribe. How’d she figure it out? By matching the picture on their homepage to the shot at about 3:15 in the video, the one I happened to screenshot above. Incredible. So in her honor, I’d like to end with an alternate post title from her brilliant mind:

“From Typo to Tribute: The Birth of Native American Preservation Land”

I think it’s quite fitting.

Last night on Chelsea Lately, Chelsea Handler sported what appears to be a shirt with a big ol’ warbonnet on it. Chances are, it’s not from a Native designer–if it is, by all means correct me, and this becomes a very different post–but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the worst, and she’s not wearing the headdress, unlike some of our other celebrity friends, but of course, it still makes me sigh.

I’m wondering if this stuff is becoming so mainstream that I’m losing sensitivity to it–cause two years ago I probably would have been livid over this. Or maybe I’m just becoming a crotchety, jaded old who can’t get as riled up anymore (ok, who am I kidding?). 

I guess this would be categorized as a “Random Appropriation of the Day” (I haven’t done one of those in forever!)…

Thoughts?

Earlier:
Drew Barrymore Sports a Hipster Headdress and a Budwiser Apron. Really.

Hey Kardashians: why you so obsessed with me?

(Thanks Lanova!)

We’ve been dealing with a lot of heavy stuff lately, and since this is my third Valentines Day I’m commemorating on Native Approps, I decided to stay in the positive, love-filled zone, rather than delving into the world of racist vintage valentines or stereotype-filled “Native American Love” art like years past. I’ve given and received a lot of love this year, so I want to send some out to you in the internet world too.

The image above comes from an amazing project by Cherokee artist America Meredith called “Cherokee Spokespeople”. She illustrated a bunch of these cards with Cherokee words and images, and then laminated them and distributed them all over the world. They’re made for bikers to attach to the spokes of their bikes, spreading the Cherokee language wherever they roam. It reminds me of Tibetan prayer flags or wheels–when they are stirred by the wind or water, they spread blessings, good will, and compassion to the surrounding area. I always have pictured these cards as spreading Cherokee language and culture in much the same way. I have a few of the cards from meeting America in the Bay Area, but my adanhdo (“heart”) card is my favorite, and lives on my bookshelf where I see it all the time. My Cherokee culture is definitely something I love, and am grateful for everyday.

Next, I wanted to share a video that Dallas Goldtooth (of the 1491s) made back in 2010, but of course still is relevant today. Always makes me smile (and maybe even tear up a little bit) every time I watch it. Without further ado, here’s his tribute to Native Women:

Of course, our Native men deserve lots of love too–as well as all our LGBTQ Natives who get marginalized in the hetero-normative, cis-normative western narrative of what constitutes “love” on valentines day. So I send some major love your way.

So yeah, Valentines Day may be an over-commericalized, commodified, silly, non-holiday that marginalizes single folks (I’m just saying…), but, I do think it’s a great excuse to share some gratitude and love. Thanks for all the support, readers, friends, and family–the world of Native Appropriations would be nothing without you!

How are you celebrating #NativeLove today? Listening to some awesome round dance songs? Tipi Creepin’? Hanging out with family and friends? Whatever way you choose to share the love today, I wish you all the best.

<3,
Adrienne K.     

Part II:
So, still unconvinced after my Part I emotional plea? You can refute my “feelings” all you want. But how about a real, peer-reviewed scientific study? You can’t mess with a one-two punch of emotions AND science, right?

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Dr. Stephanie Fryburg (Stanford Almuna and one of my professor idols) took the mascot issue head-on. The paper can be read, in full, here.

Her article, “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots”, consisted of 4 studies, using Native youth from an Arizona reservation as her subjects.

Study 1: Students are given images of Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, and a list of negative stereotypes. Afterward, they are asked to generate a list of word associations. For Pocahontas and Chief Wahoo, ~80% of their word associations were positive. (I know, that’s backwards, right?) for the negative stereotype list, only ~8% were positive (about what you’d expect). But before you get on my case about proving mascots aren’t bad…

Study 2: Students are primed with the same images or stereotypes list, but instead of word association, their self-esteem is measured. Students show depressed self-esteem in all 3 conditions, and their self-esteem was lower in the image conditions, versus the list. This means that even when the students are saying the mascots aren’t bothering them, or they are associating positive things with them, they are still exhibiting depressed self-esteem. Whoa.

Study 3: The same procedure as 1&2 was followed, but students were asked about community worth at the end of the conditions (“I respect people in my community”). Students primed with the images and the stereotypes exhibited decreased feelings of community worth, following the same pattern as above. So looking at a mascot makes students de-value their community.

Then, the kicker:

Study 4: College students were shown images of Chief Wahoo (“bad image”), Chief Illiniwek, and the Haskell Indian Nations University Indian (“good” images), as well as an image from AIGC’s campaign (an actual good image), and then asked to generate “possible selves”–looking forward to the future and how they see themselves. Those primed with the mascot images (even the good ones), generated far less acheivement-related possible selves than those with the control or AIGC image. Basically, looking at a mascot limits the way Native students see themselves succeeding.

…and a horrible follow-up, Fryburg did another study that compared white students, and in all the areas where Native students’ self esteem, community worth, and possible selves went down, white students went up. No active oppression in American society, right? White students directly benefit from racism against Native students.

In sum: Scientific research shows that mascots and Indian stereotypes, regardless of if they are “good” images (Pocahontas, The Fighting Sioux) or “bad” images (Chief Wahoo), they cause depressed self esteem, decreased community worth, and decreased possible selves–even when students say the images don’t bother them. And images are worse than words.

So still want to tell me how the Fighting Sioux are no big deal and I should get over it?

As of last Wednesday, University of North Dakota (UND) has reinstated their use of the “Fighting Sioux” mascot, which was banned last year. Residents of the state gathered over 17,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the upcoming elections, and the UND administration says that they wanted to show that they “honor the refrendum process” by reinstating the mascot.

I, of course, think this is messed up beyond belief. Not only does this put UND in risk of violating NCAA rules that won’t allow post-season games at schools with Indian mascots, it sends a huge “eff you” to everyone in the Native (and ally) community who worked their butts off to get the mascot removed in the first place.

So, because my mascot posts tend to draw mascot defenders from the dregs of the internets, let me refute your claims right off the bat (excuse me as I plagiarize my own hipster headdress manifesto):

But mascots are HONORING the bravery and fierceness of Indians! 
No. They’re not. Honoring someone does not consist of taking their culture, reducing it to a one-dimensional racist stereotype, and representing them however you see fit. It’s about power and who has the right to represent whom. Also, this cartoon helps. I don’t consider a dude in warpaint and feathers making a mockery of my culture honoring. At all. Also, not all Indians are “fierce” and “brave,” just like not all white (or Black or Latino) people are ““.

I’m Irish (Norwegian, Catholic) and don’t get offended by the Fighting Irish (Vikings, Padres)!
That’s because there is not an active system of colonialism and oppression marginalizing the Irish, “Vikings”, or Catholics in our country. Native peoples are still living under colonial rule–take a look at stats from any area of society, and you’ll see Native people at the bottom. I’m sorry if you feel “oppressed” as a catholic or a viking–but you still have a helluva lot of white privilege that kinda negates it. Sorry.

What’s next, animal rights activists telling us we can’t use ANIMALS as mascots?! Where does it end?!
Yeah, cause Native people (PEOPLE) are on the same level as animals? Thanks buddy. Thanks a lot.

What about the Wizards? Pirates? Cowboys? 
Um, mythical beings or occupations are not the same as an entire race of people.

But tribal members support the mascot! So it’s ok!
No. It isn’t. Hitler was a white guy. Can I then deduce that all white men think it’s ok to murder millions of people? And don’t cite that stupid Sports Illustrated poll that says 90% of Indians support mascots. That thing has so many issues with sampling and validity it’s not even funny. Yeah, a few tribal members might support the mascot. But it’s a sad commentary on how invisible we are in society, because most of them cite the fact that they feel “proud” to be “recognized” and “remembered”. If the only way Native peoples are viewed in the US are as racist stereotypical mascots, (or in movies, tv, and advertising) is it better to be invisible, or seen as a stereotype?

Don’t you have BIGGER issues to worry about? Like poverty and alcoholism?!
Yeah, we do. But most people, because they’re so inundated with these images all. the. time. don’t have the wherewithal to realize that Native peoples exist in contemporary society. The collective American consciousness has reduced us to a easily-digestible stereotype, and in that act, erased our ongoing struggles. In order for us to move forward as a people, we need to acknowledge and interrogate these stereotypes, so we can move past them. The two go hand-in-hand.

 But the Fighting Sioux image is a “good” image. It’s not blatantly racist like the Cleveland Indians!
Well thank you for that transition, it’s almost like you planned it! Get ready for some science (SCIENCE!). 

It got too long, so read Part 2 (the scientific proof) here: Fighting Sioux Part II: The Science

Earlier:
Thanks for the severed head, you proved my point

A Reminder of why this blog exists: One reader’s story

Stilwell High School’s New Mascot: Tommy Tomahawk

OMG so much to talk about!

February 10, 2012 — 7 Comments

Hey Guys,
I have been so impressed (saddened? angered?) by all of your “Week in the Life of a Stereotypical Indian” submissions, that I’ve been culling through them all for the last week or so. I promise a post next week breaking it all down–but in order to do that, I’d love some of your reflections about what the experience was like for you. Send me an email, or comment below. Here are some vague guiding questions, but feel free to just tell me how it went, how it felt, etc:

  • What was it like mentally (or otherwise) cataloging all these daily micro-aggressions? Did you talk to anyone about what you were doing? Did it feel empowering? Disheartening? What surprised you about the images you saw? or did you find what you expected?

Moving on, here are some of the other Native stories I’ve been following around the internetz/things I’ve been up to:

  • A 7th grade girl in Wisconsin was suspended for using Menominee language in the classroom. Flashback to government-run boarding schools, anyone? So upsetting. They said she had an “attitude problem” for saying “hello” and “I love you” in her language. Ketapanen, Miranda–we support you!
  • Looks like the “Fighting Sioux” are back–at least temporarily. Expect a longer post about this soon. Residents of ND gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot for the upcoming elections, and that act reversed the law that had forced UND to remove the mascot in the first place. Newsflash: We are not mascots. Mascots are dehumanizing, racist, and wrong. When will it end??
  • I found this blog post from last January that is so bad it reads like a parody. Really. Head over for a whole slew of white women in hipster headdresses. Here’s an excerpt:
Indians (…which i’m sure is not the politically correct thing to call them…but sounds WAY cooler than Native Americans…lol) are the TRUE Americans!  Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite holidays b/c for me it’s a celebration of us basically robbing the Indians blind!  I don’t want to be a negative Nancy…so what I can say is that Indians and their wardrobes are SUPER CHIC!  I want to be a high chief…and have the BIGGEST feather head piece…I would be a GREAT head chief…lol!
ps. I think living in a Tee Pee would be fun!!!  Mine would be hot pink  : )

  • Samantha Crain came to Boston, and I convinced a bunch of my friends to go to her show. It was super awesome, especially since the venue held only 20-30 people, which was great. If you haven’t listened to her stuff, definitely check it out. She’s also happens to be Choctaw from Shawnee, OK (if you were wondering about the Native connection). Here we are in an awkward picture after the show (I’m 5’10 and in heels, she’s probably 5’0(?), so I’m bent in half):
  • Here are some “Navajo” band-aids with “3 Aztec Designs.” From Australia. You’re welcome. 

  • Last, but not least, I’m thinking of making some shirts for the blog (omg, I know, right?). We’ve had a hearty convo over on Facebook and Twitter about ideas, but I wanted to open up the thread here as well. If we were to make some Native Appropriations shirts, what would they look like? What would you want on them?

Thanks, as always, for your support, tips, and “likes”, I am grateful everyday for the amazingness that is the Native Approps community. If you are ever feeling lonely in between posts, I post a lot over on Facebook and Twitter, and would love to have you join the conversation.

Much Love,

Adrienne K.